Lake Murray didn’t disappoint when the Bass Pro Tour visited South Carolina for Fox Rent A Car Stage Three Presented by Mercury, with plenty of big bass to go around. And though it wasn’t the biggest bass of the event – second to Andy Montgomery’s 8-pound, 8-ounce beast – local pro Anthony Gagliardi’s 8-pound catch during the Championship Round helped seal the deal and bring home his first Bass Pro Tour victory.
It’s well known that Gagliardi is a wizard on Lake Murray; he had claimed Forrest Wood Cup and FLW Tour wins (and racked up more than $700,000 in winnings) on his home lake prior to Stage Three. Gagliardi fished similar areas as the rest of the field, but had a little variation to his approach to supplement his decades of knowledge on his home waters.
“I fished a way I’d never fished before, on this lake, at this time of the year,” Gagliardi said. “It made all the difference and allowed me to win the tournament. The way I was fishing on Murray was all new to me.”
Gagliardi’s discovery of a new way to fish for Lake Murray bass wasn’t a brand-new technique – he simply used a drop-shot rig with morning-dawn-colored worm to do the majority of his damage. But, the way he applied that technique was new to him.
“During practice, I went up shallow and fished a couple of the herring spawning area points I fished at a Pro Circuit event I finished second at (in 2021),” Gagliardi said. “I fished like everyone else was fishing for them – jerkbait, soft jerkbait, swimbait. I caught some at about six or eight of the points, but the quality wasn’t what I needed to win. It gave me some pause. I was concerned, but not overly concerned.”
Gagliardi’s initial exploration of herring points in practice didn’t impress him, so he also spent some time sight fishing – also with mediocre results, partly due to the amount of pressure being exerted on bedding fish by both recreational anglers and Bass Pro Tour competitors
“I knew I needed something else to give me an advantage,” Gagliardi said.
Out came a drop-shot and shaky head. Neither of those two techniques are new to Lake Murray, but the subtle change in where Gagliardi fished them is where he made his money.
“I decided to move out deeper,” Gagliardi said simply. “I caught some in the 6- to 12-foot range that were good quality. I’ve never done that before on this lake when fishing herring points. I didn’t realize making that change would be how I’d win the event.”
As the event started, Gagliardi explored all three options; rotating between sight fishing, shallow herring points and fishing deeper off herring points. But, he gradually started to confirm that he was catching better-quality fish working slightly away from the bank.
“Typically, bigger bags of bass are caught shallow on Murray this time of the year,” Gagliardi pointed out. “I started shallow on the first day but then kept going to the deeper, more productive water. It’s not a technique I knew to use here at this time of the year, I kind of stumbled into it.”
Gagliardi would locate bass using his electronics and would scan the surface for fish busting on bait.
“I’d position myself slightly deeper off a point,” Gagliardi said. “If I saw a group of fish out deeper, I’d throw at them. The stripers were more scattered out, not on the obvious tips of the points. I believe the stripers would actually trigger some of the bass to feed. Instead of wasting time unhooking stripers using a jerkbait or swimbait, I went with the drop-shot. Stripers will follow it, but usually won’t hit it. I knew I’d just catch bass.”
Gagliardi commonly fishes drop-shots and shaky heads shallow as well, particularly when the herring bite slows down and he needs a bite or two. But he observed the stripers’ reaction to the finesse worms and figured it made sense to stick with that approach in the deeper water. Once he dialed in the deeper-water approach, he’d hold his boat in 8 to 10 feet of water and “point hop,” scanning a point and fishing if he spotted bass.
“Toward the end of the event, I just fished points,” Gagliardi said. “I’d fish riprap points, rocky points, I was even fishing points that had zero activity up shallow. I probably had 50 points, all within a couple of miles of each other in the mid-lake area. Nobody else was fishing them. Everyone else was fishing shallow.
“When you have 80 guys who all know the same things, and locals know the same shallow bite information, the lake gets pretty small. I wasn’t competing with anyone for water.”
Just like buying doughnuts, you want to be the first to get to the fresh stuff (with no pressure, if possible). By stumbling into a new pattern, Gagliardi afforded himself fresh fish daily.
“I could fish for at least a whole period each day in areas I hadn’t fished before,” he said. “You could tell the difference between fresh and already fished ones. If I returned for a second time, fishing was not nearly as good. In the last two-thirds of the Championship Round, I fished all new water. I really had fun fishing at this event.”